UE joins many of our global allies in expressing solidarity with the Colombian people, and particularly with striking union members, as the right-wing government of Iván Duque attempts to suppress popular protests with violence.
Millions of Colombians have taken to the streets since late April, opposing a bill that would have imposed heavy taxes on working people. While the government has withdrawn the bill, its violent repression of the strikes combined with anger over inequality, poverty and human rights abuses have fueled ongoing mobilization.
37 people have been killed since the protests began, with at least 89 people reported missing, and thousands of reports of violence by the army and police.
UE has signed onto a declaration demanding “investigations and punishment for those responsible for this violation of human rights in Colombia.” Other unions endorsing the declaration include the Brazil metalworkers’ union CNM-CUT and STIMACHS, an affiliate of our close Mexican allies the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT).
The labor federation Central Unitaria de Trabajadores, along with others, initiated strikes against the proposed tax bill on April 28. The bill would have imposed taxes of 19 percent on necessities for working people such as food and utilities, while retaining the sizable tax breaks granted to financial, oil and mining companies by the same government in 2019.
Colombia is one of the most unequal countries in the world, and was long one of the most dangerous for trade unionists, who were often targeted for assassination by the military, police, and right-wing paramilitary groups aligned with them. The government has also handled the COVID-19 pandemic extremely poorly, as Alejandra Marín Buitrago reported recently in CounterPunch:
“Instead of prioritizing direct negotiating with Pfizer, the government authorized private health companies to negotiate in order to purchase doses for the elite. Public testing is hardly available, and at $50, private labs testing is well beyond the budgets of most families… Social media and news outlets have ridiculed the incompetence of the government and the high-profile staff who, as is well known throughout the country, fly to Miami to get vaccinated while prioritized groups in the low-income class wait anxiously for their first shots.”
For more background on the Colombian trade union movement, see this report written by UE Field Organizer John Ocampo about his participation in a labor delegation to Colombia in late 2019.